Pianos: What's in a name?

What do you get in a brothel?


I love a swear as much as the next person who loves a swear. A sneak preview of this new gallery's wares (and wearables) comes with the territory while servicing the piano. The artists' fascination with 'objects of interest' in the space saw the dedicated Caped Regulators (piano pamperers to the stars... and you) confirming that the piano was more 'object' than 'piano'. You can object all you like, little piano.

Back to the Fuchs (and more). The internet reckons:

Nearly all Fuchs and Möhr pianos are small modern pianos with mahogany cases, dated from about 1965 to 1980. They are serviceable and reasonably stable, but like most pianos made in former East Germany when Germany was divided, lack any real interest in tone.

'Modern' is stretching credulity. The above photo of a section of the treble bridge reveals a startling lack of angle in the strings themselves as they travel across the bridge. Each pair of bridge pins is meant to be offset by 10°-12°. It would appear that these strings could be just a smidge more deviant.

Weidig: A hayfever sufferer's attempt to rid their garden of weeds...

...is a quip reminiscent of Homer's foray into lecturing at night-school in The Secrets of a Successful Marriage.

"Now, what is a wedding? Well, Webster's Dictionary describes a wedding as the process of removing weeds from one's garden."

Despite its dotage, the Weidig piano had above-average scale design details. Note the separate bearing point for the two wound bichord notes at the bottom of the treble bridge. Decent piano makers have striven to smooth out the transitions between bridges and string types. 

This piano appears to have been restrung, hence the 'blue' more modern tuning pins, and the shonky un-addressed string spacing (which is most likely not worth fiddling with at this late juncture). Often the grooves in the metal bearing points (not to mention the string grooves in the worn hammers) mean that it's hard to improve these pianos' fortunes without major refurbishment. Rarely is such a level of servicing worthwhile (nor budgeted for). It can ALL be done, but should it? Whoever did string this piano was a bit slap-dash and negligent with certain aspects of the task. Ne'er mind.

What's in a name? When a piano cabinet is restored and refinished, one might need to reinstall logos and branding. There are companies who make logos and decals for this purpose.

Brass logos for the fallboard. You can have gold... or gold (they are subtly different). OK, let's slap the leftovers on any random pianos. More than a few wily shopkeeps have given variations of that idea a go.

I rebranded my backpack with a bit o' bunting from another worthy product in my collection. A stitch (not quite) in time saw me rejuvenate the 'leading' strap (that I always grab first) to keep this favourite item going. I used material from a discarded backpack and was pleased with the results. And, dear reader, you're afforded a sneak peek at my newly-furnished rear deck.

I salvaged parts of a discarded backpack to restore robust functionality to my own staple tote. It's the reverse of Homer's famed jacket renovation (in order to look more scholarly for his night-school lecturing role).

"Now that I'm a teacher I've sewed patches on my elbows."

Marge: "That's supposed to be leather patches on a tweed blazer, not the other way around. You've ruined a perfectly good jacket."

"Incorrect, Marge... two perfectly good jackets."

These labels (for a mere $2) made me think, 'what's to stop me buying these then slapping them on everything else in the shop?' 

A refinished soundboard receives a decal.

It's the henna tattoo of the piano world.

That's a lot of awards and hype.

What's in a name? A client's music intrigued. This late variation of Chopsticks is one I never mastered. Messy indeed. That twenty-two-tuplet full of accidentals will end up in my lap for sure. Mop and bucket to Aisle 12.

I'm reminded of a Yum Cha dining experience with a mate who was grappling with some sort of birds' feet 'delight'. He reached into his pocket and revealed a Leatherman-style multi-tool. The staff were quick to run to our aid with knifey-spoony items.

...but different. Some of the Sames pianos' sorry story I'll relay another day.

By Royal appointment?

They like music, I thought. Perhaps they have a piano. Only later did it occur that they've labelled their cottage a 'batch' perhaps. The hashtag #bach is trending due not to Johann Sebastian, but to bogans abbreviating the term 'bachelor' in reference to a reality television show. Gah!

"Kurn of the kurn kurn".

"Hern of the hern hern". In the Goon Show whenever Peter Sellers imitated US radio news announcements (laden with self-important post-vocalic 'R' sounds) the sprinking of many a 'hern' created the quintessential distillation of the American accent.

The Kurn was notable not only for its fine copperplate. The piano had a Beale-Vader-style all-iron tuning system. It must be a rebranded Beale, possibly marketed on the West Coast. The client loved that I took an interest in these details. 

This pianist had better remember which leg they were limping on when they return to the vehicle. To be fair, the allegation of fraud is all in my head. Personalised licence plates intrigue and amuse (which is their point, I guess). I'd never sport one myself, but I respect those who'll go there.

In which I demonstrate that I may have changed the colour of the vehicle to protect the guilty. "Piano, one-fat-lady*". Does this car belong to Mrs Mills?

That's a pretty retro reference, Cazzbo. But hey, a certain 'vertegrand' (upright) at Abbey Road Studios is apparently named "Mrs Mills" in her memory. Pianos, eh?

I'm happy to shove an iThing where the sun don't shine (inside a piano with its action removed). In my right hand I hold a the end of a slender length of timber (a ruler, as it were) to assist in measuring string lengths in a piano which will be restrung. As long as someone else is crunching these numbers, I'm happy.

The word 'mute' is pronounced 'myute' not 'moot' (unless you're imitating many an American). Moot is a different word, a detail that far too few acknowledge. I digress.

Oh, 'MY UTE'... riiight. Well, why didn't you say? 

I'm able to dispatch this mirthful missive to a mate and spread the LOLs before the lights turn green. It's a rather slow intersection.

Schaecke by name, shaky by nature. An inquiry into the viability of this piano's innards is prompted by an Airbnb hirer who'd like to play it. Nein.

Many a previous tuner has (not unreasonably) cut-and-run. String breakages, action and damper problems aplenty, and tuning pins which are too loose to have any hope of holding on. Furniture duties only, I'm afraid. 

Here's a prominent business card. Flornoy Quimbie (not his real name) must surely be annoyed by his own card impeding his service access. It's a florid statement for the next technician to find. Normally tuners' cards and stickers are inside the cabinet sides or under the lid.

Sorry, Flornoy. Your branding has to be moved to a less prominent position.

Old ad wording seems so charming. Brags about size amuse on every level. I advise against any baby grand that seems it may have needed a humidicrib. It's a red flag for a grand to be wider than it is long. Beware.

* It's bingo-speak. "Two fat ladies" is number 88.

Check out some other bloggy bits...

Beale Street Blues

Pianos: Talking dirty...

Pianos: The garland is always greener

Pianos: Hidden hoards and Hapsburgs

Pianos: Dogs, doors and dioramas.

Spruced Up - Pianos About Town

The Piano is 'Beached As...'

Putting pianos out to pasture

Pianos: Painos (not a typo)


Pianos: Pins, pitch and PPE.

Piano tuning pins have a 'dummy' thread, a scored section that goes into the cross-laminated hardwood pin block. They do screw 'in' and 'out' but not in the manner that a screw enters a threaded hole.

Tuning pins are driven in during installation. The 'dummy' thread is scored onto the pins in such a way that they grip more one way than the other, sharks' teeth-style.

Tuning pins come in boxes (or smaller lots, bagged). These pins are not new, they have been removed from that piano. There are 220 pins in a box, weighing 4.2kg.

Piano tuners receive lots of notes. It is helpful. To us every note on the piano might sound like shit and be out of mechanical regulation, so it is useful to know which ones are bothering the client (if you can't meet face-to-face at the piano). "Will tune next year" is another oft-trotted-out trope in the tuner's world. It is false economy to delay tuning until it bothers the cloth ear.

A bloody long list from a precocious and ambitious young lass. Something that 'rings' is generally a damper problem. 'Bottom' this and 'top' that is not always clear (but it usually is). The term "Super bottom B" amused. At least it's unambiguous. Have the Mario Brothers developed a music system? That barely makes sense. Just don't google 'super bottom'.

Desirable ways to identify notes are:

1. Scientific pitch notation.The octave starting on Middle C is Octave 4. 

2. Keystick numbering. It's very piano factory and will not be a client's natural choice. But I like to honour its existence because it's quaint and functional. So listen up, readers. The lowest note is 1 and the highest (on most pianos) is 88. One had better not miscount. Note names are obviously worth including. Thus it's better to consider the usual piano range as being from A1 to C88. Middle C is C40.

Other notation systems may lead to confusion. Who could forget the client who misused Helmholtz pitch notation and had her obedient piano doctors obsessing over a note that didn't bother the client in the slightest? Not us. I don't recommend Helmholtz even for the few folk who know the ins and outs of apostrophes. Too risky.

Nothing beats labelling the notes themselves. It's all 'good'...

...erm, perhaps. I convinced the client to move this struggling piano to a more piano-friendly micro-climate within the house.

A music teacher wishes for a much more esteemed piano. Improvements were made with a combination of voicing the hammers, and twisting* the bass strings, which is not for the faint-hearted.

It's enough to give me an existensial (sic) crisis. It appears that one staff member at this eatery may have corrected the signwriting of another.

It's a fine time to pick up a takeaway container full of apostrophes. Otherwise this cafe owner's family will be eating their words for dinner.

On the home front I received this note from the next door neighbours.

It was a reasonable and charitable gesture.

The shrill piercing whines wore me down. I have sensitive ears. It was a little better when this puppy reached puberty and her voice broke. Queen of PPE** that's me.

I spied this sign in Lithgow. Should I have made one just like it to put up next door?

I have sensitive ears. When tuning I wear these. It is (perhaps to some) surprising to learn that naked pianos can be loud, and one cannot play in a wussy way to tune. If you do this all day every day (like so many sound-laden pursuits) you may suffer some form of hearing loss eventually.

I've secured the door with earmuffs so it will stay open while we get the piano tilter up the stairs and into the good room. But I thought the walls had ears, Cazzbo.

That's right, Queen of PPE, that's me. This photo turned up on Farcebook. I had no idea it existed. I was ahead of my time insisting on wearing a duck floaty while sitting in the bucket of an earth-moving machine. My sister sits to my left, unprotected. Is it because she is only second in line to the Throne? The neighbour kids at least have sun protection.

A good dog is one that is silent and pays me no attention. Barking from behind a front door sees me reaching for my earplugs before I've even met the client or entered the house. It seems weird to be wearing earplugs before I've rung the doorbell, but I have done it. At least I've not worn a duck floaty (in recent times).

My billet house at Woodford Folk Festival had a "loving family dog" which was always muzzled in my presence. I reasoned that their description must have meant that the dog hated all non-family members. I never entered the back verandah and took this photo through the rear window. If they felt a muzzle was necessary, then so did I. It was not in my 'rider' as a performer to see all pooches muzzled, but perhaps it should be.

Apostrophe-spotting aside, this note amused. It was in a theatre where I tuned.

OK, which one of you munchkins has been smoking the Master's cigars?

Behold, twitchers, a naked woodpecker. I've discussed 'exploded hammers' where the felt covering bursts off the wooden core. It usually happens in bass hammers which are bigger and fatter, meaning the felt wrap is held on under more tension, just waiting to spring off if the piano is neglected, aged or subject to too many weather variations. You know a piano in strife when it's happening in the upper treble. The hammer I have pushed forward has lost its felt entirely.

Is this aged care facility run by the Mario Brothers? Mmmm, it all sounds delicious. Fortunately I know just enough to realise that here we're talking 'first floor' and so on. I need not hunt on every level for my intended prey, indeed, a piano.

Marge learns that 'vendetta' means 'vendetta'.

The keypad instructions to exit the same facility. It made me wonder. Could a resident have a moment of uncharacteristic lucidity and solve the puzzle? Retro-grade retrograde.

Old Newtown town.

The internet has far too few cats. I learn that this client's cat's cut is called the 'lion cut'.

Look at that tail.

A note-naming no-no. Retrograde studies aside, this treatment of any piano is beyond irksome. It's also a terrible way to learn your notes (or should I say an excellent way NOT to learn your notes). That's not how you finger contrary-motion scales. I don't care if you're a budding Xenakis with a penchant for musical Sudoku, this is not on. Not. On. Xenakis would never have discriminated against the blacks.

Notice that the right (sustain) pedal is turned inward a bit. Pigeon-toed. There was a lot of lateral movement there.

Fortunately I was able to tighten the screws that held the assembly to the floor of the piano.

Remember, there's always Plan B, a toasty wippen fire.

* When copper-wound bass strings are installed they are twisted in the direction which will 'tighten' the winding (or wrap). How many twists (half a turn, one, or one-and-a-half) will depend on the gauge of the string. Lacklustre bass strings can sometimes be livened up and given more chance to project with an extra half- or full-twist. In a frail piano with old strings the required de-tensioning and then bringing back up to pitch risks string breakage. Still, twisting is (at times) a worthy option.

** Personal protective equipment.

Pianos: Getting Hitched

The Caped Regulators: Pianos, high and low.

Pianos: Under the weather

The Piano Team: Strings, scrubs pants and fireplace fodder.

Goanna Roundup

Pianos: The Colour Purple

Pianos: Things that go 'clunk' in the night

Pianos: House and Garden Varieties

Pianos: Coffee, art and coffee art.

Pianos: The Clunker Chronicles

Domestic(ated) pianos, a homely homily

Smog the mog (cats, pianos)